Sunday's season-opening contest between the Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium marks a number of firsts -- and not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The AFC matchup in Cincinnati marks a return to competition after a training camp period without preseason games. For the Chargers, it's also the franchise's first game without Philip Rivers on the roster since the end of the 2003 season.
After 16 seasons in the organization, 14 as its starting quarterback, Rivers signed with the Indianapolis Colts in March. The Chargers drafted University of Oregon product Justin Herbert with the No. 6 pick, making him the third quarterback taken overall in 2020. He might be the heir apparent, but Herbert will not start in Week 1.
That honor goes to Tyrod Taylor, a 10-year NFL veteran and Rivers' backup a season ago.
"We've had a lot of time to get the work in. This August, we worked intentionally to be as good as we can in each situation thrown at us," Taylor said in his press conference after being named the Week 1 starter. "With the tight ends, receivers and running backs, the chemistry is there."
As for the first quarterback taken in the 2020 draft, and the No. 1 pick overall, 2019 Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow makes his pro debut as both the starter and a captain for the Bengals.
"Joe's a winner. People say he only did it for one year, but that one year was unbelievable," said Chargers coach Anthony Lynn. "I don't see him slowing down much in this league."
Burrow passed for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns while leading LSU to the national championship. While the highly touted rookie faces a learning curve ahead of his pro debut, he told reporters at his Aug. 30 press conference his primary concern stems from having not had preseason opportunities due to the pandemic.
"The one thing I think I am a little worried about is not getting hit until the first game," he said. "I've been lobbying to be live in one of these scrimmages."
Not risking an injury before game week, Burrow's lobbying has been unsuccessful. Cincinnati already faces some injury uncertainty on offense with wide receiver John Ross III questionable due to an arm injury, and running back Joe Mixon questionable as a result of a head injury.
Los Angeles faces its own injury uncertainties, particularly on the offensive line with center Mike Pouncey and guard Trai Turner both listed as questionable.
Lynn declared wide receiver Mike Williams "a game-time decision" due to a shoulder injury. Williams caught 10 touchdowns in 2018, and averaged more than 20 yards per reception en route to breaking the 1,000-yard mark in 2019.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, is on track to welcome back wide receiver A.J. Green for the first time since the 2018 season. Green missed the entire 2019 campaign with ligament damage in his ankle.
Green sustained a minor hamstring injury in training camp, but is listed as probable. His return coinciding with the debut of Burrow gives decided intrigue to a Bengals offense that ranked No. 26 in the NFL for yards gained a season ago.
"Joe, he's going to be great for the next 15 years," Green said in a press conference last month. "For him, it's just getting that rhythm. We're always talking: 'How do you like this ball? How do you like this route?'"
--Field Level Media
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- Illnessday-to-day | questionable
Ross III was absent from the last contest due to an illness, and it is unknown if the symptoms will dissipate in time for Week 8 versus the Titans.
- Footday-to-day | questionable
Mixon was held out the previous game with a foot injury, and it is unknown if he will be available for Week 8 versus the Titans.
- Concussionday-to-day | questionable
Jackson III was absent from the lineup in the last contest due to a concussion, and it is uncertain if he will be cleared in time for Week 8 versus the Titans.
- Neckday-to-day | questionable
Williams was forced from the last game with a neck injury, and it remains to be seen if he will return to face the Titans in Week 8.
- Concussionday-to-day | questionable
Hopkins was lifted from the previous contest to be evaluated for a concussion, and it is unclear if he will pass protocol prior to Week 8 versus the Titans.
- Undisclosedday-to-day | out
Hart exited the last game with an unspecified injury, and he will not be active against the Titans in Week 8.
- Upper Bodyday-to-day | questionable
Higgins was lifted from the previous game with an upper-body injury, and it has yet to be established if he will take the field Week 8 against the Titans.
- Shoulderday-to-day | questionable
Carter missed the last game due to a shoulder injury, and it is unknown if he will suit up against the Titans in Week 8.
Los Angeles Chargers
- Lungday-to-day | questionable
Taylor is sidelined due to complications stemming from an injection in his ribs resulting in a punctured lung. It remains to be seen if he will return to the lineup Week 8 against the Broncos.
- Kneeday-to-day | questionable
Norton was absent from the lineup in the previous game due to a knee injury, and it is uncertain if he will take the field Week 8 versus the Broncos.
- Groinday-to-day | questionable
Turner has been absent from the lineup during the past four games with a groin injury, and it is unclear if he will return Week 8 versus the Broncos.
- Backday-to-day | questionable
Bulaga has missed the previous three games due to a back injury, and it is undetermined if he will line up versus the Broncos in Week 8.
- Hipday-to-day | questionable
Hill Jr. sat out the last game with a hip injury, and it is unknown if it will hinder his availability against the Broncos in Week 8.
- Ankleday-to-day | questionable
Green exited the last game with an ankle injury, and it is unclear if he will return to face the Broncos in Week 8.
- Tricepday-to-day | questionable
Groy deaprted the last outing with a triceps injury, leaving his availability against the Broncos in Week 8 hazy.
- ElbowProb Sun | probable
Joseph is dealing with an elbow injury, but he is likely to face the Jaguars on Sunday.